42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (CEB)
The first verse of this text highlights four important things that we Christians need. The first need is the Apostles’ Teaching. The teaching of the apostles was a continuation of the teaching of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus—who is God—was a continuation of what God had already told us through the Law and the Prophets.
And, just like the Law and the Prophets and Jesus, the teaching of the apostles is primarily about our ethics: it’s about how we act, especially toward others. How we treat other people matters profoundly to God.
The apostle John taught that we should love each other, not with word or speech, but with action and truth (c.f. 1 John 3:18). The apostle James taught that our actions show whether we really have faith or not (c.f. James 2:1-26). The apostle Peter taught that we should set ourselves apart by our obedience to the truth, which results in genuine affection and loving each other deeply (c.f. 1 Peter 1:22). He also taught that, above all, we should show sincere love to each other because love brings about forgiveness (c.f. 1 Peter 4:8).
Jesus, himself, kind of boiled everything down to love. If we love God and if we love our neighbor, we’re fulfilling what God requires of us. That “love your neighbor as yourself” thing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke came from Leviticus 19:18. In both Leviticus and according to Jesus, the definition of neighbor was expanded to include people we might not want to include if we were left to our own preferences.
In fact, in the Gospel of Mark, the legal expert who questioned Jesus about the greatest commandment agreed that loving God and loving our neighbors is more important than all the other religious stuff we might do. It does not mean that our religious stuff—our activities, rituals, tithing, or whatever else we might do—are unimportant. They are important. But how well we love each other—or not—matters more. It’s exactly what the prophet Micah taught when he said, “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB).
The first forty-one verse of Acts chapter 2 describe the Day of Pentecost: the sound of rushing wind, the tongues of flame, the disciples speaking in other languages, and Peter’s sermon that brought three-thousand people into the church. It was a day of great enthusiasm. But enthusiasm for anything has a tendency to burn out in a short while. In seminary, I was enthusiastic about mastering Biblical Hebrew…until about chapter 3. If the disciples hadn’t done something to encourage and enable long-term commitment to Jesus, the enthusiasm of Pentecost would have been a short-term high, and a mighty letdown.
But, led by the Holy Spirit, the people of the church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. They moved right into the task of teaching what the church is, how the church ought to act, and what the church ought to do. And remember, we are the church. Church is not a building. Church is people. Church is us. Without us, this building is not a church. Even without a building, we are the church.
The second need in verse 42 is the Community. We live together in community. We’re all part of many different communities: our local church community, our school community, our broader civic community, our Girl Scout or Scouts community. When I lived in Fort Wayne, my family had a Taekwondo community. Community is about people relating to other people. Sometimes we do that well, and sometimes we don’t do that so well. In the church, we’re Christian people, yes, but we’re still people. And people don’t always get along. Jesus taught the apostles two important matters about community.
The first is about when we mess up and maybe do something to hurt someone else. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift” (CEB). In other words, if you messed up, and you realize you’ve messed up, then you go make your relationship with that person right again. The reconciliation of that relationship is more important to God than bringing our gifts to the altar.
The second is about when others hurt us. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector” (CEB).
Now, a lot of people who read this text think, well, I did A, B, and C, and the jerk didn’t repent, so now I’m done with them. Jesus said I get to cut them out of my life and treat them like a tax collector and a sinner. But, if you think about it, that interpretation doesn’t quite jive with Jesus. How did Jesus treat tax collectors and sinners? Jesus offered invitations for all people, including those tax collectors and sinners, to be in relationship with him.
With broken relationships, we only have broken community. Relationships within a community are incredibly important, and in most cases we ought to try for reconciliation.
Now, I say, in most cases because there is a pastoral caveat here. If a relationship is abusive, get out of it. Whether it’s emotional abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse, get out. Get out of that relationship and get help from people who love you and will protect you. That’s what Jesus wants for you. We don’t stay in abusive relationships to try to save the abuser. I was ordained in 2006, commissioned to full-time pastoral ministry in 2003, and I’ve been doing professional ministry since 1999. In my 21 years of professional ministry, I’ve never saved anyone. Saving people is what Jesus does, not us. We aren’t allowed to be that arrogant.
If you’ve suffered abuse, it is not your fault. Get out of that relationship and get help. The problem in that relationship is the abuser, not the abused. I can say with absolute certainty that Jesus wants each of us to be healthy and whole, and you will never be healthy and whole in an abusive relationship. Honestly, neither will the abuser.
Being a community together demands that we take care of each other—and ourselves. It demands that we check in with each other and treat each other with love, respect, dignity, concern, and care. We’re responsible for our own loving actions—or lack thereof—toward each other. The Holy Spirit generated this thing the New Testament calls koinonia, which is community. It’s a kind of Spirit-induced fellowship that produces real solidarity. And, I’ll say again, a lot of people in our congregation have exemplified this kind of care very well during this COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it matters to you or not, you have a proud pastor.
The third need in verse 42 is their Shared Meals. Some scholars point to this as a reference to Holy Communion, and it might be. But I think it’s also about being present with each other. When we get together for anything, are we present? Or, are we kind of physically there but mentally somewhere else? Being present with each other is how we build and solidify the relationships of our community.
Think about the times Jesus shared meals with people. He was bad-mouthed because he broke bread with known sinners. He ate and drank with the dregs of society. He welcomed broken people to his table, and joined broken people at their tables. Jesus promised that we will one day eat and drink with him at his table (c.f. Luke 22:30). This is about hospitality and presence. When we receive Holy Communion together, we are guests at God’s table.
I miss our shared meals together. I wish we had a mission meal after worship today. I miss being present with my congregation. So, when we are able to gather together again, commit to being present. While we’re stuck at home, be present with those who are with you. Commit to taking time for conversation with each other. Learn about each other. Listen to each other. It shows others that we care. It shows that our love for each other is genuine.
The fourth need in verse 42 is their Prayers. They prayed together and they prayed individually. Prayer links us to God in a powerful way. Prayer is a means of receiving God’s grace. And, prayer connects us to each other. After all, if I’m praying for someone, I’ll probably follow up with them to see how they’re doing. I want to follow their story so I know how to continue praying for them. That’s love. That’s community. And that’s being present. Prayer matters, also, because it’s one of the ways we build up our relationship with God. Verse 46 tells us that the community gathered daily in the Temple.
So, how might we be more intentional about devoting ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles? Someone once called the Bible the most revered, yet least-read book in America. Do we study our Scripture? Do we say our prayers? Do we treat others—especially the outcasts of our local and world community—with love and respect?
We need to remember to devote ourselves to the teachings of the Apostles, which are the teachings of Jesus, which are the teachings of God.
We need to take care of each other and check in with each other, because our relationships matter. God requires us to treat each other with faithful love. God cares more about how we treat each other than pretty much anything else.
We need to be present with each other. Maybe that’s sharing a meal together. Maybe that’s something else for you. But we should be intentional about being present with each other.
We need to pray for each other, and we need to pray for our own needs. Prayer builds our relationship with God. In fact, I imagine God craves that time of prayer with us as much as we need it.
What we glimpse in these verses—the devotion to the teaching of the apostles, and to the community, and to their shared meals, and to their prayers—are the marks of an authentic embodiment of the Holy Spirit in the church. May God’s Spirit work in us and renew our devotion to these things, so that we might embody the Holy Spirit in the same way.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Rev. Christopher Millay